Image of Bakers Creek crash’s sole survivor haunts nurse
HE was "a shy boy" who had nothing in his possession but a Bible and a four-leaf clover.
When 19-year-old Myrtle Friend (Nee Findlay) came across the sole survivor of Australia's worst air disaster in 1943, the tragedy of the situation was almost too much for the young Mackay nurse.
Now living in Bundaberg, Mrs Friend recalled the sadness she felt when she saw Corporal Foye Kenneth Roberts, also 19, lying alone in Mackay Base Hospital while the bodies of his 40 fellow military personnel were brought to shore.
"I can still picture the bed he was lying in, this quiet boy and how tragic it was," she said.
Cpl Roberts had been an aircraft engine change specialist aboard a Boeing B-17C known as Miss Every Morning Fixin when it plunged into the sea off Bakers Creek on this day 70 years ago.
Mrs Friend was charged with nursing him to recovery - a daunting task for the daughter of a Calen dairy farmer and newcomer to the nursing profession.
"I guess it did affect me," she said.
"We were always so busy during the war, we were short staffed and worked long hours."
The exact cause of the crash remains a mystery, however, Mrs Friend said reports following the crash pointed to an overloading of the Boeing B-17C.
The plane's nickname, Miss Every Morning Fixin, referred to the constant repairs required to keep it in the air.
Mrs Friend said on the day of the crash, an older, more experienced pilot refused to fly the plane, and a younger pilot took his place.
Wartime censorship added to confusion surrounding the incident, and press coverage at the time was minimal.
Cpl Roberts eventually married a Sydney girl in 1944, and Mrs Friend said she kept no contact with her young patient after he was discharged from hospital.
"He used to come back to Australia for the reunions but I never met up with him again," she said.
"It would have been good but then you marry and you have your own family and you travel different roads and that's how it goes."
70th ANNIVERSARY OF CRASH
EVENTS which took place just south of Mackay 70 years ago during World War II will be acknowledged with both sadness and great thankfulness today at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, USA.
It is the 70th anniversary of the Bakers Creek crash which claimed the lives of 40 American servicemen, and relatives and friends of the men who waited decades to learn of the fate of their loved ones will be in attendance.
Also present will be Australia's ambassador to the US Kim Beazley. It's believed Mr Beazley's office supplied the wreath for today's memorial ceremony.
Mackay's Col Benson, a tireless worker for the establishment of Australia's memorial at Bakers Creek, has also made the trip to attend.